Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors Director Santos Kreimann has been asked to step into situations during his professional career where the department that he would be heading was in a state of flux.
He was named as the replacement for former director Stanley Wisniewski in 2008 at Beaches and Harbors where the department was in the midst of planning its visioning process as well as preparing to request a series of amendments to the Local Coastal Program that a vocal group of dissidents claimed were unprecedented and unlawful.
In addition, he faced a series of development and maintenance projects in Marina del Rey that would be coming before the Board of Supervisors that the same group of residents opposed, as well as the constant cacophony surrounding a rise in boat slip prices.
Four years later, Kreimann, a longtime county employee, is being asked to take charge of a situation that has attracted the attention of the county’s top law enforcement officials and left a stain on one of the county’s lesser-known departments.
The supervisors appointed Kreimann chief deputy assessor June 19 to supervise the county assessor’s office during the absence of embattled Assessor John Noguez. Noguez stands accused of reducing tax values on over 100 properties of wealthy Westside homeowners in exchange for help in retiring debt he incurred during his 2010 campaign.
Prosecutors in District Attorney Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Unit arrested former county appraiser Scott Schenter earlier this month. Schenter, who worked for Noguez in the Culver City branch of the assessor’s office, faces 60 felony counts, including allegedly falsifying records and illegally lowering property values by $172 million. He has pleaded not guilty and claims that Noguez pressed him and others to solicit donations from affluent homeowners, who in turn allegedly had their property values lowered.
After weeks of facing pressure to step down from Cooley, Noguez announced that he would take a leave of absence as of June 1.
“In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity and impartiality of the assessor’s office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as assessor,” he wrote in a letter to the supervisors.
“I do not take this decision lightly. It is my sincere hope that the leave of absence will allow the assessor’s office to adhere to its mission during this important time.”
Noguez has denied Schenter’s accusations.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the only supervisor who did not support Noguez in his campaign for county assessor, applauded the embattled assessor’s decision to take a leave of absence.
“This action, and the appointment of an interim director to manage daily operations and functions, begins the process of restoring the public’s confidence and trust in the office,” the supervisor said in a statement.
Kreimann, who previously worked in the county’s treasurer office as well as in the tax collector’s office, was asked to take over immediately and will continue to be the director at Beaches and Harbors while he heads the assessor’s office.
“Beaches and Harbors has always had very experienced managers and executives,” the new chief deputy assessor told The Argonaut in an exclusive interview hours after his appointment. “I think the strength of my executive team will make (my transition to the assessor’s office) easier.”
Chief Deputy Director Kerry Silverstrom will be in charge of the day-to-day operations at Beaches and Harbors. A newly appointed deputy director, John Kelly, will handle all capital projects and facilities matters. Deputy Director Gary Jones will be in charge of all real estate and Marina del Rey planning matters, including the visioning process. Jones will also function as the department’s liaison to the supervisors.
The supervisors had been considering the Beaches and Harbors director for nearly a week before they appointed him to his new position.
Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey and has spoken highly of Kreimann on many occasions, was not present for the June 19 vote.
Kreimann has met with many of the department’s staff and said his immediate focus will be to reestablish confidence among the department’s employees as well as repairing the reputation of the assessor’s office.
“Restoring the public’s trust is the most important thing, ” he said. “There are a lot talented people in the organization and I’m going to be asking a lot of questions over the next several weeks and months.”
Kreimann said he was looking forward to the challenge of supervising the assessor’s office. “Everything that I’ve done in my career has prepared me well for this challenge,” the Beaches and Harbor director said.
County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said Kreimann’s background affords him the necessary skills to run the assessor’s office.
“Santos is a highly qualified county leader and is fully prepared to guide the assessor’s staff in providing essential public services to county residents,” Fujioka said.
Silverstrom wholeheartedly agrees. “Santos is an incredible change agent in terms of making a department run more efficiently,” said Silverstrom, who worked with both Kreimann and Wisniewski. “I’m delighted that he has been recognized for all of the good that he has done for the county.”
In a June 18 memo to Fujioka, Kreimann indicated that he will continue to be in constant contact with Beaches and Harbors. “I have great confidence in the department’s capacity to perform without me in the near future and complete faith in the executive staff to manage the entire Beaches and Harbors team on a steady and ongoing path upwards during my absence,” he wrote.
Kreimann called the appointment unexpected.
“It happened very quickly,” he said. “But I don’t think that I would have been given this opportunity without the hard work of my staff at Beaches and Harbors.”
Silverstrom said it was typical of her boss to commend his staff and make them a part of his successes. “He takes being a good leader very seriously and has always stressed the importance of being ethical and having integrity,” she said.
The new chief deputy assessor said he would examine all of the office’s procedures and policies to see how and if they are functioning.
“(The supervisors) have not provided me with a specific direction,” he answered in response to a question regarding any instructions that the board might have given him. “But I will make the corrections that I see fit, including some checks and balances and other safeguards.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about providing quality service.”
Kreimann said he has not been given a timetable as to how long he is expected to be in his new position.
“I’ll be here as long as they ask me to be,” he concluded. “But I do anticipate returning to Beaches and Harbors.”